Tipp's Mr Reliable still keeping up appearances
The remarkable longevity of Tipperary's Brendan Cummins is testament to his goalkeeping quality, writes Damian Lawlor
WHEN the GAA decided to make it compulsory for players to wear helmets, it threatened to cut short the careers of many seasoned hurlers, especially goalkeepers.
Brendan Cummins remembers hearing the news that headwear was mandatory and wondering how he'd cope. But he didn't get bogged down with it either. New rule; adjust and get on with it.
There were times over the winter when his wife, Pamela, would walk into the family home and see her husband sitting on the couch watching TV with his helmet on to ensure he would be comfortable with it when the new season started.
It hasn't made the slightest bit of difference to the Ballybacon-Grange man; today he makes his 61st championship appearance, moving into second place in the overall list and pushing Davy Fitzgerald into third position with his 60 appearances. Cummins is now only three games away from equalling the all-time record held by Christy Ring who played in 64 championship games.
If you add in his 16 appearances for the senior footballers between 1994 and 2002, today will be Brendan's 77th championship match in total, making him the most capped inter-county player of all time.
In that run of 61 games, there was an incredible 48 in a row. But there was that blip when he was dropped by Babs Keating for most of the 2007 championship as rookie Gerry Kennedy took over. On that occasion, he was taken aside just minutes before a replay with Limerick and told by Keating that he was out. It was a real shock to the system for Cummins, and he could have easily stormed home. Instead, he went out and warmed Kennedy up, imparting any bit of advice he could. Kennedy went on to play six games, meaning that Cummins would already have surpassed Ring's record by now had he played.
Instead, he trained with intensity over that winter, reclaimed his place under Liam Sheedy and won his fourth All Star in 2008. For obvious reasons, it was the one that meant most to him.
Portroe's Darren Gleeson, a talented shot-stopper with a monstrous puck-out, is his current understudy but he's seen them come and go in his 15 years. In fact, an incredible 11 sub goalkeepers have deputised for him in his time. They include Fitzgibbon Cup winners and inter-county underage stars, Kevin 'Chalky' O'Brien and Damien Young, and Toomevara's Justin Cottrell, who holds seven county senior medals.
"It's Brendan's sheer consistency in both the league and championship that keeps him at the top," says Young, who wore the number 16 shirt in the 2000, 2005 and 2006 seasons.
"You'd be sitting there, looking on from the bench, but he never put a foot wrong. If I was to go back through all my years with him I don't think he ever made a serious mistake. So, it was all the one who was the sub 'keeper, no-one was going to get a look-in anyway. He was playing that well.
"In other counties goalkeepers might move on after three or four years and the next guy in line gets a go. But Brendan is so good at shot stopping, all-round fielding and has such confidence that there was no stage back through the years where anyone was going to get a go. It was a huge surprise when Babs dropped him but he still came back as good as ever.
"I have to say he was always a great support to me, he looked after me," Young continued. "You were competing for the same shirt but through all the years we never had a bad word. There was always support for each other."
Noel McGrath was only two when Cummins made his debut but so steady is the number one's form that they could share another few seasons together yet.
"I can't see him retiring for a good while yet either," Young adds. "He's in absolutely super shape and playing really well. There's a few sub 'keepers he has disposed of over the years. And you can see why."